Peruvian trans activist Rodrigo Ventocilla has died in police custody in Bali after being arrested at Denpasar airport. Ventocilla was a Harvard Kennedy School student from Peru and was known as a prominent trans rights activist.
Trigger Warning: This story discusses the death of a trans person in police custody, which might be distressing to some readers. For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.
The trans activist was detained on August 6 after local police found ‘suspicious items’ in his luggage while going through customs, as reported by the BBC. Authorities believed Ventocilla was in possession of drugs, namely cannabis.
He died five days later in hospital, after experiencing stomach pain and vomiting, according to Indonesian news outlet Radar Bali.
A statement posted by Ventocilla’s family to social media stated that the items were prescription medication taken for his mental health, and a herb grinder.
The family insisted that Ventocilla died of “police violence” and that his arrest was an “act of racial discrimination and transphobia. They also criticised Peru’s consular services in Indonesia, arguing that they did not help his spouse, Sebastian Marallano who tried to free Ventocilla from custody.
Ventocilla had travelled to Bali with his husband, Marallano to celebrate their honeymoon. Though Marallano was not present during the arrest, he was later detained for attempting to aid Ventocilla days before his death.
Law enforcement accused of mistreatment
The family claimed that Indonesian law enforcement “irregularly demanded exorbitant sums of money that increased over the hours, from 13 000 to 100 000 dollars for each one” in exchange for the release of Ventocilla and Marallano.
Both Ventocilla and Marallano were allegedly prevented from communicating with the family and refused the right to legal defence during their detention.
A translation of Steanus Satake Bayu Setianto’s statement to detikBali stated the cause of death was a “complete failure of body function that causes impaired kidney function and impaired liver and nervous system function to the patient’s brain.”
The family added that Indonesian officials refused to allow an independent autopsy and rejected that his death by organ failure was caused by an ingestion of drugs. “We do not know the real causes of his death” because “the Indonesian authorities have not allowed” for a post-mortem examination, The Harvard Crimson reported.
Family demands justice for Ventocilla
“Nothing will give us back Rodrigo nor the integrity of Sebastian, however, our demand for justice and truth also pursues the objective of improving the quality of the service of assistance to our fellow citizens abroad without preferences of class, gender, ethnicity or others,” the family said.
Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf, released a statement supporting the family’s “call for an immediate and thorough investigation and for public release of all relevant information.”
Peru’s foreign ministry stated that the allegation of the arrests did not “correspond with acts of racial discrimination or transphobia.”
The Harvard Crimson lmendorf and HKS Senior Associate Dean for Degree Programs and Student Affairs Debra E. “Debbie” Isaacson wrote that Ventocilla “was a beloved member of the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities and organized opportunities to bring people closer together.”
The Harvard Crimson reported that there would be a gathering in memory of Ventocilla.
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